Home » Aviation » Chinese and Japanese Fighters Clash Over East China Sea

Chinese and Japanese Fighters Clash Over East China Sea

Two Japanese Air Self Defense Forces F-15s in 2009. US Air Force Photo

Two Japanese Air Self Defense Forces F-15s in 2009. US Air Force Photo

Beijing claims a pair of Japanese fighters locked weapons radar on their planes over the East China Sea, while Tokyo denies the accusation.

During the June 17 incident, Chinese defense officials said two Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) Mitsubishi F-15J Eagles intercepted two Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 fighters over the East China Sea in the Beijing declared Air Defense Identification Zone near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands.

“The Japanese fighter jets approached and warned the Chinese military aircraft, while the Chinese military aircraft did not leave. During the flight, the Japanese fighter jets came face to face with the Chinese military aircraft for many times. To avoid risks, the Japanese fighter jets released infrared jamming shells and then flew out of that airspace,” according to a Monday report by China Military Online quoting Ministry of National Defense officials.
“They even used fire-control radars to lock on the Chinese fighter jet.

The statement went on to say, “the provocative actions by the Japanese jets could easily trigger an air accident and harm the safety of both crews, and jeopardize regional peace and stability.”

Locking onto another fighter with fire control radar is one of the most provocative actions an adversary can take short of firing weapons. Japan denied the claims.

On Tuesday, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda denied Chinese claims to
reporters that the Japanese fighters acted aggressively.

Two Chinese Su-30 Fighters. PLA Photo

Two Chinese Su-30 Fighters. PLA Photo

The fighters have, “never taken any of the provocative actions as claimed,” he told reporters according to The Japan Times.

Japanese officials said they’ve seen an uptick in Chinese activity in the region saying last week that the JASDF have scrambled fighters 200 times this quarter over 114 times over the same time period last year.

“It appears that Chinese activity is escalating at sea and in the air,” Japanese Self-Defence Force chief Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano said last week reported the South China Morning Post.

Revelation of the June 17 incident near the Senkakus comes a month after a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 054 Jiankai I frigate sailed through contested waters of the disputed islands causing protests in Tokyo.

China Coast Guard ships have sailed past the islands but the frigate’s incursion was the first military ship to transit inside waters contiguous to the islands’ territorial sea.

In 2013, China declared the ADIZ over the East China Seas and requires all aircraft operating in the zone – considered international airspace – to report to Chinese air traffic control officials.

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Categories: Aviation, China, Foreign Forces, News & Analysis
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He was formerly the U.S. Maritime Correspondent for the Washington D.C. bureau of Jane’s Defence Weekly and Jane’s Navy International. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • B.J. Blazkowicz

    Of course the aggressor whines about being “provoked.” Maybe they should be patrolling North Korean air space instead of encroaching the boarders of another nation.

  • Andre

    Perhaps this “lock-on” will be used as a pretext for similar actions by Chinese air and naval assets? The Chinese previously locked-on to Japanese aircraft from a warship near the Senkakus and also locked-on to the USS Ronald Reagan, from a submarine I believe.

    If the Japanese did in fact do this, it would mark a major escalation. Having said that, I would expect Japan to fortify the Senkakus with an A2/AD zone prior to making any provocative moves. Overall, I’d say that China disapproves of Japan’s own burgeoning A2/AD zone…

    • incredulous1

      Tell us what you know about the Ronald Reagan incident. Thanks.

      • Andre

        Apparently it was in the Washington Free Beacon, but now only on Sputnik. It involved a Chinese submarine (SSN/SSK?) staging a simulated attack in early 2015 on the Reagan, including a radar lock.

  • sferrin

    No doubt they’ll get much more than they bargained for.

  • olesalt

    The Chinese always like to “test” abilities & determination by provoking others. They better not try with the Japanese Air Force or Navy. The Samurais are never push-overs, and there bound to be clashes with the Chinese in the future thru’ accidents or intentional.

  • Stephen

    All claimants to reefs & atolls located within 200m need to occupy those structures to prevent further expansion of the Imperial Chinese machine. US needs to provide b/u & push China back to its 200m territory. The Chinese employ the same tactics as Putin’s strategy in Europe.

  • John B. Morgen

    Dancing between two dragons. At least, the Japanese have a back bones and guts for standing up to the Chinese [imperialism] in the South China Sea.

    • Horn

      This isn’t over the South China Sea. This is over the East China Sea.

      • incredulous1

        Of course, but it doesn’t change the Chinese strategy of controlling sea lanes to facilitate their new blue water initiative. Ie, access to the Pacific and the ability to control sea lanes in the SCS to ensure their supply routes and the ability to close off those of others. Think of the leverage they must dream of if they could choke Japan’s supply routes.
        Then remember the embargos they placed against Japan following the Great Honshu Earthquake and the blockade they instituted against the Philippine Navy, lest you have any doubts whether China would actually choke off the SCS. Further think of the manipulation they have employed over the past several months of using US FonOps as an excuse to militarize the new islands in spite of their promise to the US not to do so.
        I don’t think there can be any doubt as to China’s intentions and the potential for a serious conflict. The present weak US leadership is drawing us closer to conflict on a daily basis now. We cannot continue sending weak signals and staging useless demonstrations that actually help China’s legal claims. It is much easier to put up a little effort now than to endure the pain that will come if we have to force China out of the SCS to ensure one third of the world’s trade routes remain open.

  • incredulous1

    The media has glommed on to this and is actually aiding and abetting the Chinese “charm offensive.” I also find it odd that China chose the past few days to complain in the media about something that happened back on June 17. Normally we would have heard about it contemporaneously rather than in coordinated fashion as part of a sympathy ploy in the media ahead of the ICJs ruling next week. Such flailing could discourage their supposed “40 nations” they claim stand with them over island building and imperialistic coercion in the SCS.

    Furthermore, this would appear to be a fabrication, as there would be no reason for Japan to suddenly change their ROE to include provocation. This is not what Japan has done and will not do as long as the US treaties are in force, of which more are being signed all the time.

    The voracity of China’s claim is dubious at best, but more likely a ham fisted attempt to gain sympathy.
    Quite pathetic for a nation with such “dreams” of becoming a co-equal to great powers.

  • disqus_Rv1GqOyTeN

    Japanese pilots have no guts. They fled the scene with a pair of wet pants. If they claim it is their ADIZ, they should defend it. What a shame.

    • Starviking

      Yeah, we all are longing for a violent, devastating war over here… not.

    • USNVO


      I only ask because just like the Chinese government you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what an ADIZ (or EEZ) for that matter is. It is merely an area of international airspace where a country has announced it will identify all aircraft. Note that it is not sovereign territory nor does it exclude anyone from entering, it nearly asks for aircraft to identify themselves or be identified by the nation imposing the ADIZ. So you can’t defend it, the Chinese aircraft had as much right to the airspace as the Japanese aircraft did. Once the Chinese aircraft were identified and warned not to enter Japanese airspace, the Japanese aircraft left when the Chinese pilots, probably because of some deep seated inferiority complex, began aggressively maneuvering. Much as a person in a bar might leave after the punk next to him starts getting belligerent. Sure, he could easily beat the punk to a pulp, but he chooses not to because he is a mature adult and doesn’t want any trouble.

  • KazuakiShimazaki

    As a person who can read a bit more Japanese than many here, I’ve seen the initial Japanese bleats about this.

    Frankly, I’m in a bit of a difficult position. Overall, I don’t rate China’s “stack” for the Senkakus very high. For all that the world has chosen to remain neutral on the core problem of sovereignty, and thus, China’s claim remains viable on the international market. It has not been struck down by any court or even the united opinion of other nations.

    My difficulty is because though I cannot agree with China’s ultimate goal, as far as this incident is concerned based on the Japanese account the majority of the fault laid with the Japanese.

    Both sides’ accounts tallied on the Chinese flying towards those islands and the Japanese sending up fighters. Nothing wrong so far … China wants to assert that it has at least as much right to put a fighter over “her” islands as the Japanese do. Japan can’t afford to let China’s fighters get on top of Senkaku without competition. In a world where a claim’s strength is partially defined by “effective control”, such ideas are inevitable.

    The Japanese mistake was in acting like the Chinese were approaching or in indisputed Japanese airspace. The Chinese account says the Japanese made the first move, and so does Sankei’s (the most right leaning of Japan’s 4 big newspapers) account. Sankei even goes into some detail about them trying to encircle and approach the Chinese fighters from the rear, with the intent of firing warning shots (oh … the idiocy).

    It was probably just as well the Chinese fighters were not the “sheep” the Japanese were apparently used to and decided to “tactical maneuver” (Japan calls these “attack maneuvers”). There was at least one occurence of a head on situation and the Japanese fighter attempted “defensive maneuvers” (their term and Sankei gave no specifics), which is not incompatible with the Chinese variant of coming “face to face” “many times” because turning into the enemy is part of defensive BFM. Eventually the Chinese got their way this round with the Japanese fighter retreating – say what you want about the Chinese but at least they weren’t thinking of firing “warning shots”.

    What either Sankei or the ASDF (hopefully it’s just Sankei) did not realize is how the expenditure of ammunition would instantly drop everyone’s options to zero. The Chinese can hardly decide to call it a day after a Japanese fighter fired “at” the Chinese fighter (it’s not quite “at”, but the Chinese fighter will clearly be the object of the sentence). The Japanese for their part will also be out of options after the warning shots – they can either try to shoot down the fighter for real or they can retreat humiliated.

    So maybe the Chinese fighter did the right thing and turned the whole event into a non-event. In fact, from the flow of events, I don’t think the Chinese at any level were trying to “milk” this event at all. Nor were the Japanese until a former Japanese JASDF general started bleating and that forced both governments to deal with a incident that should have stayed as a low-profile brinksmanship game.

    • USNVO

      The behavior of the Japanese aircraft indicate they were not acting outsides normal parameters. Approaching from the rear is the typical way to do any intercept as it allows you to identify the target and offers no possibility of collision regardless of how the target maneuvers. I doubt they were going to fire warning shots unless the aircraft failed to communicate and entered the sovereign airspace around the islands but approaching from the rear allows for safe warning shots as well. It also keeps the intercepting fighter safe from any fire from the intercepted aircraft. In fact, it is the way all nations, at least ones with any brains, conduct intercepts. The whole purpose of an ADIZ is to identify aircraft before they enter your airspace. Would you rather they do head on passes? As for ‘locking on” with their radars, again this really makes no sense, unless you wanted to get their attention if they were not responding. Since the Japanese use the AAM4, they have no reason to “lock on” to attack and every reason not to but since they were within visual range, they had better missiles they could have used without alerting the targets. Did the Japanese aircraft use their radar? Sure, but they would have done that anyway to help maintain situational awareness, avoid collision, and be ready to fire if required. The Chinese aircraft probably did the same thing. Given that the Japanese fired IR decoys (yes, that is real aggressive, not) and left the area, they clearly felt the Chinese aircraft were acting aggressively and they were not thinking of escalating. So bottom line was the Chinese aircraft were identified, they did not enter any claimed airspace, no one fired, and both sides showed restraint. It doesn’t appar that anyone won or lost.

      • KazuakiShimazaki

        I agree that it is more likely all the claims of radar usage are due to both sides using radars to more accurately establish the position and movement of the opposing aircraft than hostile intent.

        >It also keeps the intercepting fighter safe from any fire from the intercepted aircraft.

        And that, it being a position of absolute superiority, is the most important part of the equation. You can only get that if the opponent aircraft “agrees” it is flying close to or in your airspace and so are “in the right”, so to speak. If he is going in with the idea he has at least as much right to this piece of airspace as you, or if his purpose today is to establish that assertion, then he will not take that attempt to establish dominance lying down.

        The Japanese claim that they were actually surprised by something so easily predictable either suggests deceit or idiocy.

        >I doubt they were going to fire warning shots unless the aircraft failed to communicate and entered the sovereign airspace around the islands but approaching from the rear allows for safe warning shots as well.

        It may be safe physically but politically it is more hazardous than any mock dogfight. Imagine the article in a Chinese newspaper saying “Japanese fighter employs weapons in threatening manner against Chinese fighter in Chinese airspace.” How would that go down? The explosions within China will be unstoppable.

        For the Japanese fighter, while they hadn’t fired the warning shots, they can keep the situation going on forever and say that they are employing restraint. Once they’ve fired the warning shots, and the Chinese plane calls their bluff, what options do they have other than admitting it was a bluff all along or shooting it down.

        “Japanese fighter attacks and destroys Chinese plane in Chinese airspace.”

        >It doesn’t appar that anyone won or lost.

        The Chinese did all of what they set out to do on June 17 and more. The Japanese didn’t. It’ll be unsporting to not acknowledge a Chinese win here.

        • USNVO

          I would disagree. I understand your point, but think you are reading way to much into this event based on the nationalistic spin.

          First, you seem to believe that doing nothing is clearly preferable, even when the Chinese are the aggressor. This is called appeasement and although it has worked on occasion, against an aggressive adversary it is merely an invitation to further bad behavior. So, you intercept them and, if they fail to heed your warnings and enter your airspace, you fire warning shots. If you are not willing to defend your sovereignity you might as well surrender now.

          Second, I doubt that the Japanese aircraft were surprised at the Chinese behavior. The Japanese have performed quite literally hundreds of intercepts per year, so the routine is pretty standardized. You intercept them, identify them, provide warning on MAD/IAD if required, and if the situation warrants, you continue to follow them. As soon as the Japanese aircraft saw the Chinese fighters they were probably on alert and maneuvered to disengage. This isn’t the movies, conducting ACM in an unplanned fashion is asking for a collision.

          Third, the Japanese achieved their objectives: They identified the contacts (why you have an ADIZ), they delivered their warning to not enter their airspace (which the Chinese aircraft didn’t do), and the did not escalate when provoked. Yes, the Chinese were the ones provoking the incident, not for flying in international airspace, but for conducting aggressive maneuvers when they were intercepted that were outside the numerous international agreements. Firing warning shots, had they been required, would have been well within those same international agreements.

          Fourth, if the Chinese are entering your airspace and refusing to answer calls, then warning shots are perfectly fine. So would shooting them down if they fail to leave your airspace. Done properly, with a professional intercept, multiple warnings including warning shots, and then shooting them down, won’t cause any escalation. Not doing those things will actually invite escalation. So, for the rest of the world, it is more like “Chinese aircraft strays into Japanese airspace, ignores warnings and is shot down”.

          If China wanted an incident they could spin for internal consumption but makes them look unprofessional to the rest of the world, I guess they got what they wanted. They didn’t fly over the disputed air space, they didn’t suck the Japanese pilots into a mock dogfight. To anyone that matters, they look like loose cannons. Japan didn’t get an acknowledgement of their sovereignity (their best hope not that it will ever happen) but the JASDF comes off looking much more professional to the rest of the world.

          • KazuakiShimazaki

            >same international agreements.

            I’m actually curious about those “international agreements”. As I understand it, the only formalized agreement is Chicago one on civil aviation, which does not cover military aviation. After that there are precedents which cover scenarios for undisputed airspace, but no formalized laws or agreements. I’d like to add some to my collection – can you provide some names?

            >it is more like “Chinese aircraft strays into Japanese airspace, ignores warnings and is shot down”.

            The key word in making this sentence work is the “Japanese”. However, does international opinion firmly recognize that as “Japanese” airspace? Certainly, since the United States insists on neutrality on sovereign matters, she cannot say that is Japanese airspace without changing her position.

            >didn’t fly over the disputed air space

            If they didn’t fly over the disputed air space at all, then they were in international airspace, and the Japanese took an intercept maneuver which international practice will say they can only do for planes entering your own airspace.

            >you seem to believe that doing nothing is clearly preferable

            I don’t believe in doing nothing. However, if you don’t want to push yourself into a political corner, don’t actually use weapons. If you use weapons, and the opponent doesn’t respond, your only real option left is to destroy the opponent. Then you can try to sell it on the international market, but considering the correlation of forces on opinions on those islands, I won’t risk it. Besides, the Chinese fighter might win (and in fact, if you read between the lines of both Japanese and Chinese accounts and take into account the Flanker is basically a more maneuverable airframe than the Eagle, is quite likely what happened albeit without shooting).

            I’ll prefer to use this as a pretext. The Chinese themselves have justified (pretexted) a lot of their actions since 2011 on a supposed Japanese escalation when the Japanese nationalized the islands. And while it was probably the least inflammatory legal choice (counting all Japanese domestic laws) to Japan, if one must be fair, OK it was a change in the status quo.

            So on June 17, I’ll send fighters to watch the Chinese fighters. If they don’t enter the airspace, fine. If they entered the 12-mile limit, I’ll have my fighters log and record the violation but not take immediate intercepting (let alone attack) motions. I’ll then summon the Chinese ambassador – if they didn’t enter the airspace, I’ll express “concern.” If they enter the airspace, I’ll file a protest and issue a press release in time for the evening news. Since I’ve shown maximum restraint during the encounter, there’s nothing to hide or shade.

            I’ll then stuff a SHORAD SAM or two onto a LST along with a platoon or so of Okinawan Prefecture policemen and put them right on the island. I’ll call the SHORAD crews training and remove them after a week or two, but the policemen presence will henceforth be permanent. Any Chinese protests will be met with a smiley explanation of how they changed the status quo. In essence, for their transgression the Chinese will have to live with a permanent Japanese presence, which is worth much more for effective control anyway.

            Every time they send a fighter on the island, I’ll send my fighters to watch them, and if they intrude the airspace, the SHORADs take a boat ride to the island. Every time they just come close I’ll just helicopter some extra police over to the island. They’ll get the point.

  • Mancikmanciknyo

    East China Sea just a peaceful water before hardliner Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and later Japan govt nationalized it. Japan just robbed the island in day light. Japan dare to do so under US back up as the strategy of US pivot to China (camuflage as pivot to asia). US also coordinate with Vietnam, Philipine, India, Spore to encircle China. China has letigimate fear that the pivot and the new allied force of US, Japan, Vietnam, Philipine, India, Spore will choke off her sea trade line, especially oil and gas line. Look at the mirror, you will see the other side of you in others.